TOUCHING GRIEF: The Healing Language of Touch

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Touch is the first sense to develop in human infants. A newborn’s emotional, mental, and physical well-being depend on a mother’s tender touch. Doctor’s insist on the baby being placed on the mother so it can sense the heartbeat. The mother cradles her infant surrounding them with the touch of her arms. Touch is nourishment for our soul and also releases endorphins in the brain that help us to feel good.

According to two scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, Michael Kraus and Dacher Keltner, a pat on the back, or a touch on the arm could be the key to a basketball championship. In 2011, the scientists found that the teams who touched the most, won the most. They felt that the touching instilled trust in the players and built better teamwork.

I believe touch is the thing I miss most about Peter. We were one of those touchy-feely couples that needed constant daily affectionate contact. We lived together in tactile intimacy always craving more. I miss holding hands while crossing a street. I miss bear-hugging each time one of us came through the door. I miss intertwining our hands at scary parts of movies. I miss his hand reaching for my knee while he was driving. I miss him holding out a coat for me to put on. I miss dancing close to him with his arm securely around my waist. I miss him zipping up my dress cursing all the while because he couldn’t get it hooked and then planting a kiss on the nape of my neck. Clearly, since Peter died, I have a serious case of touch deprivation.

Those in grief will tell you that it is the lack of touch that bothers them the most.

Mother Teresa discovered the power of touch when she said that more than hunger, poverty and physical suffering, it is the lack of love, which make people die every day. She used to touch the lepers and bathe their wounds with her own hands. We can’t all be the sainted Mother Teresa but we can be aware of the healing power of touch. There are massage therapists who specialize in grief bodywork. They integrate traditional Chinese medicine with polarity therapy which is a system of treatment used in alternative medicine, intended to restore a balanced distribution of the body’s energy. Bodyworkers who practice this therapy feel that enhancing circulation throughout the body helps to release the emotional, physical and spiritual blockages for people experiencing grief.

Not being touched can make us feel both physically and emotionally isolated. Touching is a biological need and in grief it is heightened because we have lost our partners who touched us both physically and emotionally. I found that when I have a grief burst and hug someone, I can cry more easily with their arms surrounding me in comfort. The touch of a friend or family member’s embrace helps to calm my angst and bring me some relief. I really believe that physical touch can be crucial to those who are on a journey through grief. So when you meet a widow on the street, know that she craves contact. Ask her “Can I give you a hug?” Even a gentle squeeze of her hand or a pat on her back will be of more use that anything you can say.

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